Hackaday Prize Entry : Cosmic Particle Detector Is Citizen Science Disguised As Art

Thanks to CERN and their work in detecting the Higgs Boson using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), there has been a surge of interest among many to learn more about the basic building blocks of the Universe. CERN could do it due to the immense power of the LHC — capable of reaching a beam energy of almost 14TeV. Compared to this, some cosmic rays have energies as high as 3 × 1020 eV. And these cosmic rays keep raining down on Earth continuously, creating a chain reaction of particles when they interact with atmospheric molecules. By the time many of these particles reach the surface of the earth, they have mutated into “muons”, which can be detected using Geiger–Müller Tubes (GMT).

[Robert Hart] is building an array of individual cosmic ray detectors that can be distributed across a landscape to display how these cosmic rays (particles, technically) arrive as showers of muons. It’s a citizen science project disguised as an art installation.

The heart of each individual device will be a set of three Russian Geiger–Müller Tubes to detect the particles, and an RGB LED that lights up depending on the type of particle detected. There will also be an audio amplifier driving a small 1W speaker to provide some sound effects. A solar panel is used to charge the battery, which will feed the converters that generate the logic and high voltages required for the GMT array. The GMT signals pass through a pulse shaper and then through the logic gates, finally being amplified to drive the LEDs and the audio amplifier. Depending on the direction and order in which the particles pass through the GMT’s, the device will produce a bright flash of one of 4 colors — red, green, blue or white. It also triggers generation one of three musical notes — C, F, G or a combination of all three. The logic section uses coincidence detection, which has worked well for his earlier iterations. A coincidence detector is an AND logic which produces an output when two input events occur sufficiently close to each other in time. He’s experimented with several design versions, before settling on a trio of 555 monostable multivibrators to provide the initial pulse shaping, followed by some AND gates. A neat PCB design brings it all together.

While the prototypes are housed in wooden cases, he’s going to experiment with various enclosure and mounting options to see which works best — bollard lamp posts, spheres, something that hangs on a tree or tripod or is put in the ground like a paving block. Future prototypes and installations may include a software, pulse summing and solid-state detectors. Embedded below is a video of his current version of the detector, but there are several other interesting videos on his project page that are worth looking at. And if this has gotten you interested, check out this CERN brochure — LHC, The guide for a simple explanation of particle physics and information on the LHC.

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“You Had One Job”, Bot

Only a Human would understand the pithy sarcasm in “You had one job”. When [tterev3]’s RopeBot the Robot became sentient and asked “What is my purpose?”, [tterev3] had to lay it out for him quite bluntly – “You cut the rope”. He designed RopeBot (YouTube video embedded below) for one job only – single mission, single use.

A couple of years back, [tterev3] had put up some thick ropes for a low ropes course in his backyard. Over time, the trees grew up, and the ropes became embedded in the tree trunks. Instead of risking his own life and limbs to try cutting them down, he designed RopeBot to do the job for him. It’s built from scavenged electronics and custom 3D printed parts. A geared motor driving a large cogged pulley helped by two smaller, idler wheels helps the bot to scurry up and down the rope. A second geared motor drives a cam reciprocating mechanism, similar to industrial metal cutting saws. A common utility knife is the business end of the bot, helping slice through the rope. A radio receiver and controller is the brains of the bot which drives the two motors through a motor driver board. The remote controller, assembled on a piece of foam, has three switches for Up, Down and Cut. Everything is held together on the 3D printed frame and tied down with a generous use of zip ties, with rubber bands providing spring tension where needed. When the rope has been cut, the RopeBot comes down for a smashing end. It might not look fancy, but it gets the job done. We spy some real ball bearings on the three pulleys meaning [tterev3] didn’t skimp on good design just because it’s a disposable robot. Obviously, he spent a fair amount of time and effort in designing RopeBot.

Once the job is done, most of the electronics and hardware can be recovered and used again while the 3D printed parts could be recycled, making this a really cost-effective way of handling the problem. Like the Disposable Drones we covered earlier, these kind of “use and discard” robots not only make life easier for Humans, but also ensure low economic and ecological impact.

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Hackaday Prize Entry : DEER — An Electronic Repellent

Ultrasonic repellent devices used to keep away insects, rodents, birds, and even large animals have been around for quite a while, but their effectiveness depends on who you ask.  Some critters just don’t seem affected, while some others definitely will avoid being around such a device. Deploying a few of these devices to scare off animals seems to be working quite well for [Ondřej Petrlík]. Around where he lives, the fields of tall grass need to be mowed down during the spring. Unfortunately, the tall grass is ideal for young, newborn animals to stay hidden and safe. The mowing machines would often cripple and hurt such animals, and [Ondřej] desperately wanted to solve the problem and prevent these mishaps.

He built an electronic repeller to keep away wild animals and their young from his farm/ranch/range back in the Czech Republic. He used an Arduino Mini to drive a large piezo transducer to scare away the wild animals from the vicinity of the device. He likely used a high enough frequency beyond human range, but we’ll know more when he publishes his code and details. There are also a few large 10mm LED’s – either to visually locate the device or help drive the animals away in conjunction with the ultrasound, with an LDR that activates the LEDs at night. Using the Arduino helps to turn on the transducer at random intervals, and hopefully, he is using a range of different frequencies so the animals don’t become immune to the device.

His first prototype was cobbled together using vanilla, off the shelf parts. An Arduino, a step up converter, an LDR, a couple of LEDs, a reed switch for powering it on via a magnet, and a large ultrasonic transducer, all powered by three alkaline AA batteries. He stuffed it all inside a weatherproof molded enclosure, holding it all together with a lot of hot glue. This didn’t make it very rugged for the long-term, outdoor field use. While the prototype worked well, he needed several of the devices to be placed all around his farm. To make assembly easy and make it more reliable, he designed a custom PCB to fit in the weather proof enclosure. This allowed him to easily mount all the required parts for a more reliable result. His project is still a work in progress, so if you have worked with these types of ultrasonic repellent devices to keep away animals, and have any insights that may help him, do chime in with your comments. [Ondřej] seems pretty satisfied with the results so far.

KiCAD Best Practices: Library Management

One common complaint we hear from most new KiCAD users relates to schematic and footprint libraries. The trick is to use just one schematic symbol and footprint library each with your project. This way any changes to the default schematic libraries will not affect your project and it will be easy to share your project with others without breaking it. I’ve spent some time refining this technique and I’ll walk you through the process in this article.

We have covered KiCAD (as well as other) Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools several times in the past. [Brian Benchoff] did a whole series on building a project from start to finish using all the various EDA packages he could lay his hands on. No CAD or EDA software is perfect, and a user has to learn to get to grips with the idiosyncrasies of whichever program they decide to use. This usually leads to a lot of cussing and hair pulling during the initial stages when one can’t figure out “How the hell do I do that?”, especially from new converts who are used to doing things differently.

Read on to learn the best practices to use when using KiCAD and its library management.

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Reverse-Engineering the Peugeot 207’s CAN bus

Here’s a classic “one thing led to another” car hack. [Alexandre Blin] wanted a reversing camera for his old Peugeot 207 and went down a rabbit hole which led him to do some extreme CAN bus reverse-engineering with Arduino and iOS. Buying an expensive bezel, a cheap HDMI display, an Arduino, a CAN bus shield, an iPod touch with a ghetto serial interface cable that didn’t work out, a HM-10 BLE module, an iPad 4S, the camera itself, and about a year and a half of working on it intermittently, he finally emerged poorer by about 275€, but victorious in a job well done. A company retrofit would not only have cost him a lot more, but would have deprived him of everything that he learned along the way.

Adding the camera was the easiest part of the exercise when he found an after-market version specifically meant for his 207 model. The original non-graphical display had to make room for a new HDMI display and a fresh bezel, which cost him much more than the display. Besides displaying the camera image when reversing, the new display also needed to show all of the other entertainment system information. This couldn’t be obtained from the OBD-II port but the CAN bus looked promising, although he couldn’t find any details for his model initially. But with over 2.5 million of the 207’s on the road, it wasn’t long before [Alexandre] hit jackpot in a French University student project who used a 207 to study the CAN bus. The 207’s CAN bus system was sub-divided in to three separate buses and the “comfort” bus provided all the data he needed. To decode the CAN frames, he used an Arduino, a CAN bus shield and a python script to visualize the data, checking to see which frames changed when he performed certain functions — such as changing volume or putting the gear in reverse, for example.

The Arduino could not drive the HDMI display directly, so he needed additional hardware to complete his hack. While a Raspberry Pi would have been ideal, [Alexandre] is an iOS developer so he naturally gravitated towards the Apple ecosystem. He connected an old iPod to the Arduino via a serial connection from the Dock port on the iPod. But using the Apple HDMI adapter to connect to the display broke the serial connection, so he had to put his thinking cap back on. This time, he used a HM-10 BLE module connected to the Arduino, and replaced the older iPod Touch (which didn’t support BLE) with a more modern iPhone 4S. Once he had all the bits and pieces working, it wasn’t too long before he could wrap up this long drawn upgrade, but the final result looks as good as a factory original. Check out the video after the break.

It’s great to read about these kinds of hacks where the hacker digs in his feet and doesn’t give up until it’s done and dusted. And thanks to his detailed post, and all the code shared on his GitHub repository, it should be easy to replicate this the second time around, for those looking to upgrade their old 207. And if you’re looking for inspiration, check out this great Homemade Subaru Head Unit Upgrade.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Experiments with Wheeled Legs

If you’ve been keeping tabs on recent developments in robotics, you surely remember Handle — the awesome walking, wheeled robot from Boston Dynamics. There’s a good reason why such a combination is a good choice of locomotion for robots. Rolling on wheels is a good way to cover smooth terrain with high efficiency. But when you hit rocky patches or obstacles, using legs to negotiate these obstacles makes sense. But Handle isn’t the only one, nor is it the first.

[Radomir Dopieralski] has been building small robots for a while now, and is especially interested in how they move. He is sharing his experience while Experimenting with Wheeled Legs, with the eventual aim of “building an experimental walking+rolling robot, to more efficiently kill all humans and thus solve all the problems”. His pithy comments aside, investigating and experimenting with different forms of locomotion to understand which method is most efficient will pay rich dividends in the design of future robots.

During an earlier version of the Hackaday Prize, [Radomir] snagged a coupon for laser cutting services. He used it to build a new robot based on a fresh look at some of his earlier designs. This resulted in the Logicoma-kun — a functional model of a Logikoma (a logistics robot designed to be a fast all-terrain vehicle for transporting weapons and ammunition) from “Ghost in the Shell: Arise”. Along the way, he figured out how to save some servo channels. For gripping function, he needed to drive two servos in sync with each other, but in opposing directions. This would usually require two GPIO’s and a few extra lines of code. Instead, he dismantled a servo and reversed the motor AND the servo potentiometer connections.

But this is still early days for [Radomir]. He is fleshing out ideas, looking for feedback and discussions on robotic locomotion. This fits in perfectly with the “Design Your Concept” phase of the Hackaday Prize 2017. He has already made some progress on Logicoma-kum by having it move in either the wheeled or walking modes — check out the videos after the break.

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Propeller Backpack for Lazy Skiers

At first glance, it looks eerily similar to Inspector Gadget’s Propeller Cap, except it’s a backpack. [Samm Sheperd] built a Propeller Backpack (video, embedded after the break) which started off as a fun project but almost ended up setting him on fire.

Finding himself snowed in during a spell of cold weather, he found enough spare RC and ‘copter parts to put his crazy idea in action. He built a wooden frame, fixed the big Rimfire 50CC outrunner motor and prop to it, slapped on a battery pack and ESC, and zip-tied it all on to the carcass of an old backpack.

Remote control in hand, and donning a pair of Ski’s, he did a few successful trial runs. It looks pretty exciting watching him zip by in the snowy wilderness. Well, winter passed by, and he soon found himself in sunny California. The Ski’s gave way to a bike, and a local airfield served as a test track. He even manages to put in some exciting runs on the beach. But the 10S 4000 mAH batteries seem to be a tad underpowered to his liking, and the motor could do with a larger propeller. He managed to source a 12S 10,000 mAH battery pack, but that promptly blew out his Aerostar ESC during the very first static trial.

He then decided to rebuild it from ground up. A ten week welding course that he took to gain some college credits proved quite handy. He built a new TiG welded Aluminium frame which was stronger and more lightweight than the earlier wooden one. He even thoughtfully added a propeller safety guard after some of his followers got worried, although it doesn’t look very effective to us. A bigger propeller was added and the old burnt out ESC was replaced with a new one. It was time for another static trial before heading out in to the wide open snow again. And that’s when things immediately went south. [Samm] was completely unaware as the new ESC gloriously burst in to flames (8:00 into the third video), and it took a while for him to realize why his video recording friend was screaming at him. Check out the three part video series after the break to follow the story of this hack. For a bonus, check out the 90 year old gent who stops by for a chat on planes and flying (8:25 in the third video).

But [Samm] isn’t letting this setback pin him down. He’s promised to take this to a logical finish and build a reliable, functional Propeller Backpack some time soon. This isn’t his first rodeo building oddball hacks. Check out his experiment on Flying Planes With Squirrel Cages.

We seem to be catching a wave of wind-powered transportation hacks these days. Hackaday’s own [James Hobson] spent time in December on a similar, arguably safer, concept. He attached ducted fans to the back of a snowboard. We like this choice since flailing limbs won’t get caught in these types of fans.

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